Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Pork Vindaloo and lard are good for you !

Continuing my tale of how we’re learning, year-on-year, to process more and more of our pigs, which is how it should be. Because we are overwhelmed in porkiness when the carcasses come back from the abattoir we have been happy to pass on the bits we don’t know what to do with to our neighbour, the venerable Annick and her posse of cats plus scrappy dog Hugo.

Little by little though, we are reclaiming the bits we couldn’t cope with (I’m talking metaphorically, don’t think I’m knocking on her door asking for our scraps back!) and learning what to do with trotters, heads and the fat.

The lard has been a revelation. It seems that this rendered pig fat is having a renaissance. Try Googling “is lard good for you?” or, for the glass-half-empty pessimists amongst you, “is lard bad for you?”, to find out the new truth. From a sustainability point of view—both ecologic and economic—why buy vegetable oil produced far away, when we can use our very own pig fat, especially now that it’s not so very bad for you? And there is nothing better for flaky, tasty piecrusts!

The head has always been problematic; we tried making brawn one time and didn’t like the result. French, English and American butchers have different ways of dividing the carcass and the French cut off the gorge, everything below the jaw. Bernard, our boucher de campagne told us that we shouldn’t add it to the sausage meat because of all the (lymph) glands but didn’t explain why, nor suggest what we could do with it otherwise. Rather than go in the bucket for Annick’s cats and dog, Gabrielle patiently got to work with a sharp butcher’s knife and removed the glands and a lot of fat to leave an impressive amount of still quite fatty pork. A slow cook would render more of the fat off.

We’ve found Anjum Anand cookbooks to be very reliable, i.e., you follow her recipes and end up with something that you’d be pleased to be served in a restaurant. Her Pork Vindaloo (from Anjum’s New Indian) is a world away from the macho too-hot curries served up in British restaurants. Apparently, the colonising Portuguese introduced their Goan subjects to Carne de Vinha d’Alhos, a dish of meat with wine and garlic. The Goans adapted this, adding loads of spices and using vinegar instead of wine to create vindaloo. For the Portuguese and then the Goans, pork would be traditional and it was the perfect way to use our reclaimed meat. The vinegar and spice mix gives a distinctive flavour and, if you fancy making one, don’t feel at all obliged to go too hot with the chillies.

Another change this year, was the treatment of the leg we’re hoping to turn into Parma-style ham. We’ve tried both dry salt and brine and this year, we used a cleansing brine before immersing the pieces in the curing brine. (Photo shows a floating brine meter indicating the saltiness.) We also tried injecting (a slightly weaker) brine into the femoral artery, to get the cure right into the centre of the leg so making the flavour more even (this is called brine pumping). As usual, the instructions were either vague or ambiguous and I ended up on the phone to our expert physiotherapist friend Alan to get some guidance as to identify the artery from the vein. It seems logical now that he’s explained it: blood is pumped round the body under pressure, so the artery is the more rigid tube of the two. From our animal first aid box I took a new syringe, the end of which was a tight fit into the artery.

After three weeks in the brine, a day drying off in the breeze, then a week in the fridge to equalise and another day drying off in the breeze, it is now hanging up in our neighbours chimney for a smoke, another first for us. It’ll be several months before I can report on the result but hopefully it’ll be an improvement on last year’s attempt.

Soon: a call for winter volunteers and the start of the permaculture design plan for our forest garden.